CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin insists that rest and recovery is important this week as the title-chasing Reds take on Larne.
Tiernan Lynch’s Inver Reds make the trip to Solitude (3pm kick-off) looking to build on their win over Coleraine last time out and push for a home tie in the European playoffs next month.
The hosts’ Gibson Cup hopes remain very much alive after their 0-0 draw with Linfield at the weekend and McLaughlin acknowledges the need to wrap his players up in cotton wool ahead of another important weekend in the title race.
“It’s the same as every game now – we need to recover as best we can,” insists McLaughlin.
“There are a lot of tired bodies and tired limbs out there, that was our third game in eight days. It’s important now that we rest and recover going into the Larne game. They had a good result against Coleraine, and it will be another tough one.
“It’s our last home game and we want to finish the season strong, especially at home in front of our own fans. It’s important that we get ready for another tough game and go and perform at our highest level because we need to do that to beat Larne.
“Then it takes us into three away games, so it’s important we finish our season at home with three points and then move onto whatever comes our way in the final three. There is a lot can happen between now and then, so we’re glad of the week in-between and we’ve no midweek game.
“It is a tough schedule for our part-time players, but they’ve responded to the challenge brilliantly over the course of the season. We just have to look after them now, wrap them up in cotton wool for the next couple of days and let them put their feet up as much as we can and get ready for Saturday.”
The availability of Jamie McDonagh will be a boost to McLaughlin after the influential winger served the last of his three-game ban on Saturday, but McLaughlin is adamant he has a fight on his hands to get back into the starting 11.
“It will be great to see Jamie back available,” McLaughlin acknowledges.
“He has been so good for us this year. He’s been a brilliant signing for us, like all our signings, we got really lucky in the window, and we signed really well. McDonagh has probably been the stand-out of them all. I think he’s got 25-assists and eight goals – an incredible record.
“If you take that out of your front-line over the last couple of games then you’re always going to suffer a bit, but the boys have done well that have come in for him. They’ve taken over from him really well, so he’s got a fight on his hands to come back in the team but you’re better looking at him than looking for him and we’re glad to have him available for next week.”
McLaughlin believes that Linfield would have been the happier side to take a point before the weekend's stalemate at Solitude – as it ensured they stayed top of the league at the game’s conclusion
“We weren’t thinking about not losing to be honest,” admits McLaughlin.
“I think Linfield might have been thinking along them lines. They were probably thinking if we can stay in front then we’re still top dogs in the division and we’ll still lead the way when the final whistle goes.
“You can see and understand and that’s not being disrespectful to Linfield, definitely not in any way. I’m just saying they wanted to be top of the league at the final whistle and they’ve done that.
“Our thinking wasn’t about don’t get beat, ours was that we wanted to go top, and we want to win the game. Our home form has been superb this year and we were banking on that, but you’re playing against the Champions and such a quality side.
“You see the quality they have right throughout and to come away with a point, we’re not too disappointed, but we’d a couple of half-chances and a great save from the ’keeper. We could have won it, but on another day if they score that free-kick with the last kick then you’re sucker-punched. We’re not celebrating a draw but we’re not too disappointed either.”